Kayaks used for this exercise: 2 x Epic V8s and a Knysna Marlin.
Ski/kayak hybrid style boats are becoming more popular for both fishing and general paddling. I think its time to review rescue techniques for these craft.
Skis are neither not SOTs or Sea Kayaks. They are faster, generally lighter and have design characteristics that may include an under stern rudder, a long waterline length etc. which means hey handle differently. After the incident, I have made it a priority to review and practice rescue techniques specifically for these craft.
As we work through this review and practise, I will report back our findings and post videos that hopefully help others.
1st line of defence: Don’t fall in.
Develop skills to keep you from falling out of the boat. When people come into the sport through wider SOTs, bracing is not something that seems needed or seen as a priority. The development of solid and reactive bracing is a vital skill in any kayak. A good training method for a paddler to practise in the safety of calm shallow water is to have someone stand in the water holding the Ski. Have the paddler close their eyes. The assistant rocks the boat gently and then a faster sharp lean so the paddler has to brace to save falling in. I find this more realistic in safely developing a reactive brace. In conditions learn to read the water so that such surprises are less likely. Consider wearing a lap belt to give better connection to the boat. This also allow you to edge and brace with more conviction. A Ski gains stability through forward motion. A brace technique I use to keep moving forward in challenging conditions is stoke and brace. As I end the stroke, I delay the exit with a light brace. This can be in any form of rhythm to suit conditions. E.G. Stoke delay brace, stroke delay brace or stroke, stroke delay brace – repeat.
2nd line of defence: Self Rescue
It is every paddlers duty to have a solid remount.
Never assume that because you have good remount skills in one boat that you don’t need to practise in a new boat. When you get a new boat, this should be right up there on your priority list.
None of us like getting into cold water in the early season. A quick jump of and a fumbled remount is not enough. Practise, practise, practise.
It should be a smooth operation. spend time at the various stage so that you understand them. Rushing as fast as you can to get out of the water does not help you understand the stages or feel comfortable in those stages.
In conditions you may need to wait half way through the remount to allow a wave to pass (position 4 in in the video).
A bad habit that many SOT paddlers have whilst remounting it to throw their paddle over the kayak on a leash so that they can use two hands to remount. Without a leg/body leash this is a dangerous practise because:
1. The paddle is leashed to the ski. Letting go mean you have not tether to the ski. If it slips form your hands in wind/waves you now have not ski or paddle. You will never catch a 14kg ski in wind.
2. The ski can drift over the paddle whilst you are remount (especially in waves). You now find yourself in the cockpit with the leash under the boat and your paddle on the wrong side. You can’t even get the paddle up to brace to save yourself in the conditions that put you in the water in the 1st place.
3. You need your paddle to provide support stokes during the remount.
4. A ski is more stable moving forward. you need to be paddling as you bring each leg into the boat. I have often seen paddlers fall in again as they try to pick there paddle out of the water and sort the leash.
Failing to remount in a smooth practised action is very disheartening. Being physically cold whilst mentally doubting your remount ability will drain you very quickly.
A good video of Oscar teaching remounting.
I prefer to hold the foot strap with my elbow in the bucket instead of the edge nearest to me. I find it helps with grip, leverage and even lower centre of gravity.
Use breath control to calm and assist you
As a life long martial artist and free diver, I use correctly balanced breathing to assist me. I have never heard this talked about for kayaking…. Try this: Breath in; as you pull across the cockpit, breath out. This makes you relax and become a dead weight just when you need it. If you have to stay here whilst waiting for timing with the waves, keep the breath out and breath small shallow breaths to stay heavy and relaxed. This steady shallow breathing also effects the brain waves and keep you calmer.
3rd line of defence: Assisted Rescue
Rafting up to assist in a rescue with a Ski is nearer to sea kayak methods than SOTs. These are slim fast and more fragile. Manoeuvring into position to assist with a long waterline and an under stern rudder require a combination of lining up early, draw stokes and peddle control for best effect for small movements forward and back. It is a good idea to practise manoeuvring alongside moored boats, buoys etc to get a feel of the coordination required for paddle and peddle. Remember, you press the opposite pedal going aft to get the desired direction of turn.
We found that rafting up bow to stern has several advantages:
1. Skis can get closer due to the opposite shaping
2. Rescuer can get a better grip in front of the cockpit
3. The bow buoyancy allows you to lean on their ski and keep it very stable
4. You can reach across we one hand and grab them to pull them in if needed
5. You have face to face contact for better communication and reassurance
Remounting a rafted ski in this manner was very easy.
The SOT method of putting feet into the cockpit to raft up is much less suitable because:
1. There is no need to risk getting yourself into a side saddle position were you are not ready to paddle immediately if needed.
2. The risk of the rescuer not get their feet out of the way as the swimmer enters the cockpit.
3. There is potential risk of the rescuer falling backwards out of the cockpit, especially in waves.
4. The boats are narrow enough to easily reach and assist the swimmer without changing seating position.
5. Leaning on the bow gives great stability whilst leaving a hand free to assist. You could use two hands but I did not find this necessary.
Towing a Ski (with or without a paddler)
We found the efficient shape of a Ski made towing almost effortless. The under stern naturally aligns and tracks better than a kayak without a rudder that tends to wander and snatch. An 18′ ski needs at least a 6m tow line (maybe more in surf). I acted as and injured paddler laying down with feet on the deck with no problems.
Rescuing a swimmer who has lost contact with their boat
In the live rescue incident, I had to make the decision between going after the swimmer or the boat. The conditions caused the Ski to flying away very fast. I chose the swimmer as I did not want to leave him in to water alone as he was cold and exhausted. There was also the potential of losing him in the rough waters. With lesser conditions and a less exhausted swimmer it may worth going for the boat, but communication on the action and reassurance with the swimmer is vital. As divers we. have inflatable markers that stand high from the water for boat pick up. An other alternative could be a bright flag that slips over a paddle blade so that it can be held high and seen.
We attempted to tow a swimmer from the stern. This proved impossible (especially for turning) as the drag was too much, even in calm water.
I then clambered onto the rear deck: a method recommended in my sea kayak training and by a local lifeguard surfski racer on the day of practise. This proved only slightly better and decreased stability. I also doubt a tired swimmer would have the strength to get onto the stern. There is a big risk that they can capsize the Ski.
By far the best method is for the swimmer is to hug the bow and wrap the legs so that the legs are out of the water. This proved very effective for forward paddling and turning. The added bonus was that you can keep facial/verbal contact and the swimmer has less risk of waves and water in the face and mouth.